Evacuation and Escape

Leningrad Blockade

Goldberg (Kodes) Ayia

Aya Kodes was born on December 22, 1937, in Riga.


When Germany attacked Soviet Russia, I was three and a half years old. The war caught us in Daugavpils (Dvinsk).[1] My grandfather, my mother’s father, was a Jewish ritual butcher (shoykhet). He was the son of Zalman-Itza Ginzburg, a highly respected man in the city.

Grandfather said that the Germans were a highly civilized people, and we did not need to flee. But at the last moment, on June 26, 1941, when panic began in Daugavpils and the Germans were about to enter the city, we decided to go away for a few weeks. We rushed to the station to board the last departing freight train.

The train had not gone very far when the Germans started bombing. People were told to get out of the cars. Afterwards, Red Army fighters supervised the boarding of the civilians. My mother, grandmother, and I, along with my 22-year old aunt, ended up in one train car. My mother thought that my father, grandfather, my father’s brother Shai, and the rest of our relatives were in other cars, but it later turned out that all of them had returned to the city …

Our train arrived in the Kuybyshev region, and we were set down in the vicinity of the collective farm “The Red October”, located in the Benezenchug district, part of the Chapaev village council. No one wanted to take the evacuees in. They put us in a barn. My mother told me that on our first day there, she went to work. When she returned, she found a crowd: the locals had come to see the “kikes.”

I myself remember that I was hungry all the time. I sat on the porch of the building housing the collective farm’s cream separator with a bowl in my hands, and some people would pour a bit of milk in it, or give me a piece of cottage cheese. But there were others who lifted the collar of my dress and said: “You’re not wearing a cross – starve, you Jewish brat!” One day they decided to baptize me. The priest was very fat, and the kids told me that he had a knife and he was going to kill me. Terrified, I ran away from him.

At night we would go to a place where there grew some kind of grass that tasted like onions. We also went secretly to the fields owned by the collective farm to look for leftover ears of wheat to glean, which was strictly illegal. I got caught out in the field a few times and got a terrible tongue-lashing.

I remember how cold it was; we covered ourselves with straw. I remember how at the end of the war someone who had returned from the front gave me a lump of sugar. I could not understand it: it looked like snow – why was it not melting? and why was it sweet?

I remember the day the war ended: they gathered us children together and fed us pea soup from concentrate.

We returned to Daugavpils in July 1945 and found out that all the other members of our family had been murdered in the ghetto. The city lay in ruins; some distant relatives put us up at their place — eleven people huddled together in a tiny connecting room. The lavatory was outside. I remember how scared I was to go out there.

After the war there was more hunger, more cold, no clothes to wear. Mother got hold of a sack somewhere and made me a dress out of it, and a bag for school, and a pair of crude slippers.

Psychologists say that a person’s childhood determines the subsequent course of her life. What did I see ever as a child that was good?

When we came to Israel in 2006, the Claims Conference gave me 2,500 Euros. For that I am thankful, of course. But can it replace all the people who were killed and tortured, can it erase all the hunger, cold and humiliation?

Maybe what I wrote is not all that important, but that is what happened.

[1]Daugavpils is a city, center of the Daugavpils region of the Latvian SSR (now the Republic of Latvia). 11,106 Jews lived in Daugavpils In 1935 (24.6% of the population). After the beginning of World War II, the city’s Jewish population was augmented by the refugees fleeing Poland. Before the German army occupied the city on June 26, 1941, more than two thousand Jews managed to leave. On June 29, 1941, the executions of Jews began. On July 15, 1941, a ghetto was established, also housing Jews from Kraslava, Vishki, Subate and other towns of the Daugavpils and Ilukste counties, as well as Jewish refugees from Lithuania. During the mass executions that took place in the summer of 1941 through October of 1943, 15,000-17,000 Jews were killed in Daugavpils. On October 28, 1943 the last remaining ghetto inmates were transferred to the Kaiserwald camp in Riga, and then to the concentration camps. No more than 50 ghetto inmates survived.